What Makes Snapchat a Success? | Kevin Wang

Snapchat is an instant messaging application created by three Stanford students. Messages sent in Snapchat known as “snaps” are self-destructive images and video clips. The concept is that users can send snaps that last up to 10 seconds after they are opened by the receivers. Since its launch in 2011, Snapchat has achieved an active user base of 150 million users with more than 9,000 snaps being sent every second. Aside from the statistics, Snapchat has successfully incorporated emotion into instant messaging and brought forth a new lifestyle for teenagers and young adults. After all, what is it that makes Snapchat so successful?

Why Snapchat?

When evaluating the potential of a product, the question we always ask is why would people want to use it. In the early stages of product development and marketing, a similar question guides the developers to establish and grow a user base. In Snapchat’s case, it is extremely important to take the competitions into consideration. Therefore, Snapchat addresses the question of why would people use Snapchat instead of Facebook Messenger, iMessage, or any other existing IM (instant messaging) platform?

Unlike any other IM platform, messages sent in Snapchat are self-destructive and ephemeral, meaning that they are only available for a few seconds before they “disappear.” This feature clearly appeals to those who appreciate the speed of instant messaging but are in need of a little more of privacy. Thus, the majority of Snapchat’s users are teenagers and young adults.


While many other platforms allow users to send photos and videos, Snapchat perfects the feature by making it quicker. Snapchat is built from the ground up for sending videos and photos. When users open the app, they see a camera instead of a list of their contacts. By clicking or holding the circle shutter, they are able to “snap” a photo or a short video. After that, all they need to do is to designate the receivers and press “send”. The whole process takes less than a few seconds.

In addition, Snapchat has added a sense of intimacy to messages. It allows users to overlay a message on a photo or video. Hence, messages are transformed from plain texts into something visual. Most commonly, a Snapchat message consists of a selfie (a photograph that one has taken of oneself) and an overlaid message. In this way, the receiver would be able to perceive the emotion of the sender through his or her facial expressions.

These three signature features of Snapchat have largely contributed to the success of the product. In my next blog post, I will continue the discussion of Snapchat’s success story and focus on the aspects of updates and monetization. In the meantime, feel free to comment in the area below.

Here is a link to a more comprehensive data sheet of Snapchat: http://expandedramblings.com/index.php/snapchat-statistics/

Works Cited

Introducing Snapchat Stories (Feat. Smallpools). Produced by Snapchat. Youtube, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-ie5_aaHOhE. Accessed 24 Oct. 2016.
Johnson, Lauren. “With 50 Million Daily Users in Europe, Snapchat Pitches Brands in Germany.” Adweek, 14 Sept. 2016, http://www.adweek.com/news/technology/50-million-daily-users-europe-snapchat-pitches-brands-across-pond-173510. Accessed 23 Oct. 2016.
Morrison, Kimberlee. “How People Are Really Using Snapchat.” SocialTimes, Adweek, 26 Jan. 2016, http://www.adweek.com/socialtimes/how-are-people-really-using-snapchat-infographic/633305. Accessed 24 Oct. 2016.
Snapchat logo. Snapchat, Snap, http://www.snapchat.com. Accessed 23 Oct. 2016.

7 thoughts on “What Makes Snapchat a Success? | Kevin Wang

  1. willmanidis

    Snapchat’s success was ultimately a success in user acquisition and media manipulation, not of product strength. Early on Snapchat chose a target demographic that was both underserved and had relatively low acquisition costs; young teens. While ultimately Snapchat may have been a better product at launch then others in its vertical, it’s success came on quickly acquiring users. It doesn’t matter how good your platform is- if your friends aren’t you won’t be. It just so happens that 13-15 years old are one of the cheapest populations to target, and easy to manipulate. Additionally much of Snapchat’s early success was based around the negative media attention it received around nude photos. This was a massive asset for the platform, one that literally was evaluated in it’s early rounds of funding as an asset. Negative media attention is an unimaginable asset. You can look at American Apparel to see the proof in action.

  2. wbdrisco

    I can’t say I know terribly much about the Snapchat app from a business perspective, but I’m wondering what about the success of Snapchat influences your work? Do you look at Snapchat as just an example of success that can be admired but needn’t be copied? Or do you subscribe more dearly to the methods that let its creators to great success?

    1. kevinwang11 Post author

      First of all, I need to make it clear that I see Snapchat only as one of the many successful startups, not as an example that everyone should follow. While my work resembles that of Snapchat, I don’t think that I can just take Snapchat’s model and apply it to the product I have been working on. My discussion of Snapchat serves a case study that informs people about the possible methods to start a business.

  3. rickyyu1999

    Interesting post. During my summer camp at UPenn, one of the main developers of a social media application called Houseparty, which is instant facetime for your information, came in and gave us a short lecture about the social media world and the incredible success of snapchat. She noted that snapchat’s success comes in part from the fact that these messages are ephemeral, as you described, and also because Snapchat adds this unique privacy to the app. As in nobody sees who you’re snapping the most, how many friends you have on snapchat, who you snapchat, but just how much you snapchat in general. Do you also think of this as true?

    1. kevinwang11 Post author

      Yes, I do agree that Snapchat provides users with “a sense of privacy.” However, it is important to mention that the privacy Snapchat offers is only relative to other social platforms; messages (snaps) are not absolutely private. For example, many people have the misconception that snaps really “disappear” after they are viewed. The truth is that these messages are stored on Snapchat’s servers and backed up for an extended period of time before they are actually deleted.

  4. tkbarnet

    Fun question that you might not have an answer to, but what about Snapchat would you change if you could design wise? Do you think it’s missing something or bogged down by two many features?

    1. kevinwang11 Post author

      I think that the Snapchat today is heavily driven by its profitability. Like I mentioned in my second blog on Snapchat, features that were once meant to be fun are now being used for advertising. These features makes it hard for new users to adopt the app. Snapchat should really consider making their app simpler, like it once was.

      Fun fact: It took me half a month to learn how to use Snapchat.


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